Simple best practices for great podcasts

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Question: What makes a great podcast?

Answer: Podcasts can appeal to such highly specific audiences that what may seem like utter nonsense to you and me could be highly relevant and engaging to a given podcast's audience. In that sense, podcasts have democratized the broadcast business. So, in reality, a great podcast is in the ear of the beholder. That said, however, I believe the very best podcasts do have a few things in common:

They are authentic. That is to say that they are not spinned, spit-shined, overproduced or dumbed down. As a native creature of Web 2.0, the podcast's real power is that it is a channel for real conversations between people. Emphasis on real.

The participants have authority and passion. Audiences expect a podcast to have a point of view and stick to that point of view. This means having no fear of editorializing on relevant topics on occasion. If the hosts or producers don't possess a genuine zeal for the content they are producing, a podcast is the wrong vehicle for them. Passion is entertaining. Why else would people opt in to hear what you have to say?

Length varies. Entertainment doesn't. There's no right length. Try 15 to 30 minutes as a start. But keep it entertaining. I once read that b-to-b podcasts should always avoid the use of humor. That's just laughable.

They are not long ads. I don't believe there is a single brand in existence that could not put a podcast to good and fruitful use. But they aren't ads. What if you were going to sit down over coffee with key influencers and customers? Would you put on a hard sell or would you earnestly try to foster a genuine dialogue? If your answer is the latter, you're ready for podcasting.

John January is VP-director of brand voice at ad agency Sullivan Higdon & Sink and co-host of SHS' popular podcast about advertising, American Copywriter.

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